I attended once, a learned man’s lectures on the Gita. He recited verse after verse and explained their meaning. He pointed at four particularly important slokas and took pains to explain them according to the advaitic point of view. He said that the Janana yoga is the most important of all and is the final door to salvation. As the question time, I asked him, “How could we distinguish between a realised person and an unrealised one?”. He said, “We can’t, For all purposes, he is like you and me. He moves in the world as a water drop does on a lotus leaf”. I was not happy with the answer. What is the good of giving a subjective characteristic? I would like to see the model of a man which the Gita tries to shape, and this scholarly man says we can’t distinguish him from others. He perphaps means that it is only a state realisable, not recognisable. Everyone can say to others that he has realised, and one can doubt that there is no such state!
I heard some others also speaking on the Gita. They say it is a great work, a synthesis of many yogas, which lead to man’s emancipation; and urge us to read it for ourselves instead of asking us to benefit by trying to practice!. One may read any number of books on swimming, physical exercise, painting, etc. But one does not become any better swimmer, athelete, painter nor gardener for mere reading and reproducing. It is only by putting into practice the tenets we learn that we get any results but not by reciting them day and night and teaching them to any number of audiences. I remember having read a story written by the late O.J. Cauldrey, in which he brings together a Christian missionary and a Hindu priest, each confident of winning the other to his creed. One day, after a long association, the priest walks up to his friend’s home to request for baptism, while the other comes out of his house and would learn more about the Hindu’s concept of God! The two repair to the hills to find out Truth and the author says ‘We await them even today!.” That author felt that Christianity stresses only on the practice, and hinduism on the goal! This observation, I submit, is not too bad at all. Discussion on the relative efficiencies of the paths indicated by the Gita, trials to establish by argument the advaitic, vishistaadvaitic or the dwaitic point of view, and stress on reading the Gita daily and not on practicing, have filled our spiritual deliberation beyond saturation and demand our attention. A Swamiji, Brahmananda Saraswati, who Mother visited, asked her, “How much of the Vedaanta shastra have you read?” Is a spiritually evolved person expected to be well read in the shastras? Another learned man Sri M. Subrahmanya Sastri, famous scholar of Vedaanta met Mother, asked some questions, and being stunned by her answers asked her “Which boooks have you read?” He might have left with the belief that she read one or two books more than he did! It is a sad commentary on the wisdom of the Rishis that in the country that they lived’ and after what they have taught, scholarship, memory, capacity to argue and quote from books, are judged to be the criteria for spiritual evolution.
A Yagnavalkya does not bring in scriptures to support his answers to questions of Gargi, a yama does not teach the scripture to young Nachiketa, a brahmani does not ask a Koushika to read the scripture and a Dharmavyadha does not give a list of the books to be read to Koushika! Way is it in the land of their living, scholars worry more about reading than about wisdom? Can wisdom dwan on mere scholarship?
Shastras are codifications of systematised knowledge of the composers. They embody mainly the ideas of predecessors of a particular school of thought, liked and loved by the composer. When a pundit interested in that school of thought reads them, the ideas run closely parallel to his understanding at several places and at quite at a distance to his belief at some other places. Being more of a salesman than a worker, the pundit learns the devices to reconcile those deviations with the main line of thought to the best of his ingenuity, and when he feels confident of his correctness through repetition, perhaps interpolates a sloka or two. A parenthetical shooting off at a tangent is not rare in any sastra. (Upanishads, on the other hand are probably the outcome of higher knowledge taught by workers, (not salesmen) and so they are very brief and to one point generally. Writing on palm leaves being the only means of preserving the shastras from a teacher more for a polish than as a guidance for his practice. (It is usually a warning to intending saadhakas to get instructed by a guru; and not to blindly follow the book. What a revelation of the absolute limitation of a book!) We rarely find the pundit quoting a living or historic example, to illustrate a point of conduct. The shastras appear to be records of logical reasoning, not of psychological understanding. It is only a guru or an experienced person, that can usefully interpret the shastras, which ordain line of conduct without providing illustrative examples. There is thus plenty of possibility for a teacher to construe a sutra to suit his understanding or preference when he cannot possibility follow the line of reasoning running through the text. If one does not venture to do it out of regard for the composer, another would, to satisfy his self importance, or to obtain an advantage. A person with experience in the spiritual field would confine himself to the field of his experience, interpret only that part of the shastra which he understands well, and that with numerous examples and illustrations. A Ramakrishna or a Ramana Maharshi may be quoted as such a guru. A pundit on the other hand, learns what appeals to him, and fits in the new material in the matrix which he had already accepted and enriches the load of his school of thought. His explanations also grow opulent in a similar manner. When his need demands, he draws freely from the store of his memory and flings a quotation on the listener or opponent. Anyone who has heard these shastraic scholars would notice how they fill their discourses with quotations relevant or irrelevant, and repeat their vexatious method of splitting the slokas word for word, giving the meaning of each world instead of just incorporating the meaning of the quotation and passing on. There is more an attempt to impress the listener by scholarship instead of explanation. This method of exposition, as also the method of composing the shastras is age old, and can clearly be discerned in useful shastras like vaastu, jalavijnana, asvalakshana etc. It is still continuing in home steads as well as platforms. If a reputed scholar on vedaanta shastra does not know to identify a realised soul; to whom does he look for guidance or correction? He hasn’t himself learnt to describe a sthitaprajna, how could he help his listeners, or how could the books he expounds, with skill and scholarship?
“Experience gives shastras but shastras do not give experience” siad Mohter, to Brahmananda Saraswati. If even poetry intended to give natural emotional experience to a reader fails to lift him up to the level the writer intends, how could the descriptions of one’s experience give that experience to a student? Taking even the most favourable example of devotional songs of great devotees, they move a listener to an emotion and pass on. Unless the listener tunes up by constant hearing of such songs, the chord in his heart that force-vibrated to the song, and thus clears the damping load on it, he will not be able to help it to vibrate on its own. When writing or hearing of an emotional brand can fare only that much, what chances has an intellectual exposition? Several hundreds must have heard a Tyagaraja, who was reputed to have had a special weakness for the emotional expression in his songs, how many turned devotees? Musicians there were, plenty of them, claiming him to be their guru. But how many caught the infection of devotion? “Sahitya cannot bring about raahitya” said Mother in connection with a student’s desire to impress upon his teacher, Mother’s spiritual affection. A devotee cannot inject devotion into another by means of his devotional writings.
Writers on vedaantic philosophy are as much detached from wordly pleasures and pains, as intelligent surgeons are free from the attraction of the female form. One is not any nearer to Banaras for possessing all the knowledge about the convenient route, and precautions, and even the provisions and money necessary to do the piligrimage. One must get up and start, and keep going. Along what path? Mother said to a lady who asked to be given a suggestion for her practice. “Any path is good”. “When all we see is He, where is the question of good path? All paths are good. There is no fixed path for slavation.”